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How Nostalgia Works

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Author's Note: How Nostalgia Works

Dr. Alan R. Hirsch of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation said this about nostalgia: "Nostalgia does not relate to a specific memory, but rather to an emotional state. This idealized emotional state is framed within a past era. Idealized past emotions become displaced onto inanimate objects, sounds, smells and tastes that were experienced concurrently with the emotions." This resonated strongly with me — that nostalgia is really a longing for an emotion, not an event.

It doesn't seem to be the prevailing view, though. So maybe nostalgia means different things to different people. Perhaps this is why, when my husband was helping me brainstorm nostalgia-inducing movies and TV shows for the "Looking for a Trigger?" sidebar, we often disagreed. I tended toward ones with the general theme of "coming of age," while his suggestions were more based on release date — which movies and shows were popular in different time periods. (He doubted millennials would experience nostalgia watching "Stand By Me," for example. I find it hard to believe any human could watch that movie without getting wistful for the journey that is adolescence.)

I looked far and wide to find another expert who so directly described nostalgia as a yearning for a specific past emotion more than a specific past event, but I came up short. So I shied away from focusing on that definition here. But just so you know, it's out there.

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